Target Gets Trolled. A Social Media Cautionary Tale … Or Not

August 18, 2015 Matt Allison: Founder, Chief Strategy Officer

Whenever a large brand takes a stand on a social issue, you can expect some people to publicly voice their displeasure. This was certainly the case when Target announced that they would no longer use labels or color clues to distinguish toys and bedding by gender. Many posters, some angry, some concerned and others down right confused took to Facebook to air their grievances.

One Facebook user, Mike Melgaard, saw this as an opportunity to have some fun. He created a fake Facebook account and posed as a Target customer service rep, with the name Ask ForHelp and a bull’s-eye profile picture.  In a span of 16 hours, he replied to more than 50 comments with snarky, sarcastic, and hilarious responses.

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He told AdWeek, "Immediately, I knew there would be your typical outraged American spouting emotional reactions on their Facebook page. After taking a look, I was literally laughing out loud at my computer. A few more minutes in and it struck me how hilarious it would be to portray myself as a parody customer service rep. So, I did just that, and the rest was history. Honestly, it was like striking comedy gold. Every one of these people gave me the ammunition I needed for a great response."

After laughing out loud and acknowledging Melgaard’s comic genius, my next thought was that someone on Target’s social media team was asleep at the switch. Surely they have social media monitoring software in place that should have alerted them to what was going on. I felt badly for the person or people who would likely lose their jobs over this. A friend even wondered if Target would take legal action against Melgaard.

In a surprising twist to this fascinating story, I find that my empathy for the poor sap that blew it may have been unnecessary. Target seems to have embraced the troll.

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This was obviously a response to Melgaard’s fun. (He responded in the comments, using his own profile, by saying, “Target Seriously. You are AWESOME,” earning almost 11,000 likes.) A cursory review reveals that most target posts get fewer than 1,000 likes. This one has more than 52,000 and 17,695 shares at the time of this writing. (Interestingly, an unrelated, subsequent post has almost double the average number of likes. Coincidence?)

So, I suppose it is possible that Target knew what was happening all along and decided to let it play out for its comic potential. (Responding to customer complaints on social media in the usual way is a drag anyway, if someone wants to do it for you, why not?) More likely, they just figured out how to take what could have been a PR blunder and use it to bolster their brand’s personality.

I come away with two important lessons. First, pay attention to what’s happening on your social media properties, especially after making a public announcement that’s bound to be controversial. Second, sometimes, just once in a while, it might be a good idea to feed the trolls.

 

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